Fulton assistant DA tangles with judge

The Georgia State Supreme Court on Thursday issued a stay of the contempt order issued by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington against an assistant district attorney.

Earlier in the day Arrington had jailed assistant DA Linda Dunikoski for refusing to pay a $100 fine for an October contempt citation.

Arrington also threatened her boss, District Attorney Paul Howard, with jail time unless he can give a reason he should not be held in contempt for telling Dunikoski not to pay the fine and for confronting the judge in a hallway and his office.

Howard's office quickly filed an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court, asking the justices to release her pending an appeal of the contempt citation. A spokeswoman for the jail said Dunikoski had already been released on a $100 signature bond.

A statement from the Supreme Court granted Howard's motion for supersedeas -- a legal order commanding a stay of proceedings -- even though Dunikoski had been freed.

"The contempt order issued by Judge Arrington in this case is just plain wrong," Howard said in a statement released early Thursday evening. "It sullies the reputation of one of the finest, most honorable and ethical lawyers in this country."

This is at least the second time Howard has had a public confrontation with a judge.

In 2006, deputies were ordered to escort Howard from a courtroom when he insisted on questioning jurors in a rape case even after Fulton Judge T. Jackson Bedford told him he could not. Howard resisted court officers who tried to lead him away so he was handcuffed and taken into a holding cell where he had a physical altercation with a female deputy.

In the most recent incident, there were two confrontations Thursday morning, according to the order.  It spun off of a disagreement Arrington was having with Dunikoski, who was prosecuting a murder case.

Arrington had told Dunikoski she should not continue speaking once he had ruled on an issue in the murder trial of Randy Murray, who was convicted.

She persisted.

He then fined her $100, telling her to write the check to a charity of her choosing.

But Howard said Dunikoski was cut off during that hearing by the judge.

"The transcript of the October 6th case shows clearly that Ms. Dunikoski was courteous and professional at all times while standing up for her right to cross-examine a defendant charged with murder," Howard said. "Judge Arrington, for some unknown reason, did not allow her to complete her cross-examination after only 45-minutes of questioning. The defendant was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison."

When Arrington asked about the $100 Thursday, Dunikoski said Howard had told her not to pay it, according to the order.

That is when Arrington ordered Dunikoski taken in to custody, and he scheduled a hearing for the afternoon to ask Howard about the matter.

After Arrington left the courtroom, witnesses said Howard fetched  Dunikoski from a holding cell and told a staffer to take her to her office.

Arrington wrote that Howard confronted the judge in a private hallway.

Arrington wrote Howard “walked up to me, within ¼ inch of my face, and shouted that I was making a mockery of the judiciary, and I responded by saying that he was making a mockery of the judiciary by ordering an assistant district attorney not to follow the court’s order. Mr. Howard further stood out in the hallway and challenged the Fulton County deputies to release Ms. Dunikoski into his custody. I informed the deputies that she was not to be released.”

Moments later, Arrington wrote, Howard came into the judge’s office.

“Mr. Howard barged into my office and demanded to see me,” Arrington wrote. “I asked the deputies to escort him out of my office until the hearing could be held at 2:00 p.m. on today’s [Thursday] date. Frankly, Mr. Howard’s behavior and subsequent tirade made me fearful of my safety.”

Howard, in his statement, defended his own actions and challenged Arrington's recollection of the confrontation.

"As is my right as District Attorney, I orally objected to the wrongful and illegal incarceration of Ms. Dunikoski," Howard said. :Her incarceration was demeaning, inappropriate and injudicious. My office disagrees with Judge Arrington’s characterization of my actions and welcomes further examination of this matter."

Another judge will preside over the “show cause” hearing, which has not been scheduled.